It depends on the situation, who is currently fronting, who is co-conscious, the phase of the moon, and whether or not the groundhog saw its shadow. Sometimes, it is possible to purposely trigger another alter out to the front. In our system, that could be via a negative trigger, like being in a lot of pain, or a positive trigger, like pulling out the stuffies and putting on Winne the Pooh cartoons. If two alters were already very blendy, like Janet & Saoirse get sometimes, it’s relatively easy. However, that doesn’t mean it always works.
In general, to have an easy switch, both parties need to be co-con and open to passing the baton. This happens most often in therapy, where we’ve all agreed to have a switch-o-rama hour. It’s still tiring and can give us a headache if we’re switching a lot, but it does allow our therapist to talk to multiple parts every session… in theory. Sometimes, Saoirse has a hard time letting go; sometimes, parts don’t want to come forward or are just offline.
Sharon wrote a piece for our blog that describes how she can push herself to the front and force a switch. Not all of us can do her trick, however.
For us, most switches are still involuntary to at least some degree. Sometimes, it’s possible to feel a switch coming on and fight against it, but it’s exhausting and can make us feel physically ill. Other times, switches happen with minimal warning. These can be very disorienting to whoever pops up. If we’ve felt a switch coming on, it may have given us time to get at least a vague understanding of the current situation before fully coming forward. If we switch in rapidly, though, we may have no idea WTF is going on.
While there will be exceptions to this answer (particularly relating to systems that have been through decades of therapy to develop skills that take an incredible amount of communication and work and do not happen easily or overnight), 99% of the time, the answer to this question is no; systems generally cannot control switches.
Now – let’s get into the details and into the intricacies of how systems might be able to work on managing, guiding, and sometimes even intentionally switching.
Switches happen because a system experiences an external trigger. Triggers in this circumstance can be traumatic or not, but switches do have to be ‘triggered’ by something that caused a different alter to take the front. This could be something that brought up a traumatic memory and pulled that alter who held that memory to the front; it could be a thing that caught that alter’s attention and brought them to the front (their name, something they like, something they relate to, a memory from a time they were fronting), it could be an immediate need that they are most equipped to deal with so they are pushed to the front for the system’s safety and protection because of the system’s internal functionings, or one of many other potential reasons that could bring an alter to the front and cause a switch.
Systems can – over time – learn how to identify alters’ individual triggers and can make personal decisions on whether or not they wish to move towards utilizing these positive triggers actively to intentionally cause switches to happen. Just because it’s considered a ‘positive trigger’ doesn’t mean it can’t be jarring, and stressful, and can cause massive interpersonal issues between alters without appropriate communication and consent.
Even if a system is able to build this as a consistent ability – to be able to regularly utilize positive triggers – even for multiple alters – that still is not the same thing as being able to control which alter fronts when or being able to control switches. Being able to intentionally invite someone to the front is a wonderful skill to have, but that is not the same thing as being able to prevent a switch from happening in a triggering moment, which is really a core part of what DID is and is not something that systems who have not fully fused can control.